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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Tzvi Abrahams

Massei: Inheriting the Watered Garden ~ Tzvi Abrahams

Updated: Nov 4, 2022


Parshas מַסְעֵי

Inheriting the Watered Garden

נַחַלָה: inheritance

נְחִיל: swarm of bees

נְּחִילוֹת: musical instrument

נַחַל: stream

וְהִתְנַחַלְתֶּם אֶת הָאָרֶץ בְּגוֹרָל לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתֵיכֶם And you will inherit the land with a lottery according to your families.

נַחַלָה: Inheritance

Hashem promised us Eretz Yisrael as our inheritance, “a land flowing with milk and honey.” If Hashem has promised us an inheritance, it must be something of value. Only a land that is fertile can fulfill this requirement. A land where water can reach the fields through a network of נַחַלוֹת/streams is worthy of being a נַחַלָה/an inheritance. This idea is hinted to in the pasuk in Devarim: “that Hashem is bringing us to a good land,” where it then proceeds to list over twelve factors that relate to the goodness of the land. Since נַחַלֵי מַיִם/watered streams are listed first, it must be because they are of primary importance.

So the difference between an inheritance that is called a יְרוּשָׁה and an inheritance that is called a נַחַלָה is that a יְרוּשָׁה inheritance could be anything, even something not so desirable, like a broken-down car, whereas a נַחַלָה specifically refers to something good and desirable.

הִנֵּה נַחֲלַת ה’ בָּנִים. Sons are referred to as a נַחַלָה/an inheritance, because not only do they inherit us, but they also flow from us. We are also Hashem’s בָּנִים and we are also Hashem’s נַחַלָה, and, like a נַחַל, we are an outflowing of Him. When are we worthy to be called Hashem’s נַחַלָה? When we do His will and learn His Torah, then we have a חֵלֶק/portion in His Torah. Hashem created us to spread His light in the world, His Torah, His holy words. If we fulfill our mission of immersing ourselves in Hashem’s Torah, then the land flourishes, the heavens give their rain, and the land produces. If we don’t succeed in our mission, then, as we say in the Shema, the heavens will close up, the rains will stop, and the land will not produce.

So we are Hashem’s נַחַלָה. In the same way a נַחַל gives life to the land, so too we give life to the land. This is what is meant in Parshas בְּחֻקֹּתַי תֵּלֵכוּ where it says that when we follow Hashem’s חוּקִים/statutes, so too nature follows Hashem’s חוּקִים.

And this is the reason why particularly on חַג הַשָׁבוּעוֹת (also known as חַג הַבִּיכּוּרִים) the land is judged for its fruits, because since we are also judged for our Torah, and since the land’s ability to produce is inextricably connected to the strength of our Torah learning, it therefore follows that it is also a time of judgment for the fruits. We see this idea clearly reflected in what Chazal tell us regarding what happened when the Torah was given on Har Sinai — that the mountain sprung forth נַחַלֵי מַיִם/springs of water and became lush with flowers and vegetation. This is one of the many reasons why we have the tradition to decorate our shuls with flowers on Shavuos — because it commemorates this very idea that the land’s capability to produce is directly proportionate to our learning and following in Hashem’s Torah.

The Watered Garden

Har Sinai is also known as הַר חֹרֶב/Mount Chorev, where חֶרֶב means “destruction” since it was a very dry and barren place, being a three-day distance from the well-irrigated land of the Nile.

Har Sinai also comes from the lashon of סְנֶה, which means “dry thorns,” where Hashem appeared to Moshe in the form of a burning bush that was at the foot of Mount Sinai. In Pirkei D’Rebbe Eliezer it says that Hashem came down from Heaven and rested in the סְנֶה, in a dry thorny place, to show empathy for the Jewish People who were suffering in Mitzrayim.

The Ibn Ezra explains that the רָצוֹן/desire of Hashem, as symbolized by His residing in the dry thorny place of the סְנֶה, is for us to bring moisture to the land until it becomes fertile like a well-watered garden.

Fast-forward to the time when we, all the Jewish People, were gathered around the mountain to receive the Torah and the place was no longer barren, the desert came alive, and the mountain was full in bloom.

Hashem wants us to be His partners in the world, and when we do His will, the world reciprocates and blossoms just like Har Sinai. When we are far from Hashem, though, when we are slaves to our own Mitzrayim, then the land is barren. His will is represented by the Torah, and the Torah is compared to מַיִם, and this is what makes the land moist and fertile.

When the Jewish People were living in Eretz Yisrael before being exiled by the Romans, the land was fruitful, but after we were exiled, the land returned to desert. Since our return in this century, and especially our return to Yiddishkeit, the land is once again in blossom.

Adam was given the task to guard and work the Garden of Eden. He didn’t need to physically work the garden and toil the earth (that was his punishment); all he had to do was to keep the Torah and the garden would flourish.

נְחִיל: Swarm of bees

A swarm of bees can occur when a new queen is born and she and her worker bees set off on a mission to find a new home. During the swarm, the queen bee is at the center. So too Hashem wants us to crown Him King, place Him at the center of our lives, and find Him a home where he can reside among us, as it says וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָם/and I shall dwell within you.”

נְּחִילוֹת: Musical Instrument

לַמְנַצֵּחַ אֶל הַנְּחִילוֹת. The נְחִילוֹת is a musical instrument, so called because of its similarity to the sound of humming bees.

נַחַל: Stream

כָּל הַנְּחָלִים הֹלְכִים אֶל הַיָּם/all the rivers flow to the sea. There is something called the flow of life, like a river flowing to the sea, where, if not for the force of gravity, we would all be floating around.

There is a concept in the secular world of “going with the flow,” to do whatever feels good, not to go against the current, to resist nothing.

There are four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. The downward force of gravity affects both water and earth, whereas air and fire go upward. Our bodies are made up of dust and water, so naturally we sometimes feel heavy and tired, feeling the need to just lie down. On the other hand, our neshamah is compared to both a flame and ruach. If not for the body, the neshamah would just jump upward and fly away.

The spiritual way of life is the one that is connected to this upward force that lifts us out of the heaviness of this world. It is a connection to the neshamah that is constantly fighting the constraints of the body and the force flowing to the sea.

Like salmon that strive upstream to mate in the very same waters where they were born, so too the neshamah is striving to reconnect to its source.

So as we go on our journey through life we have to ask ourselves: in which direction are we heading — upstream or downstream?

מַסְעֵי – Life is a Journey

In the parshah, Hashem lists all the encampments that the Bnei Yisrael traveled along on their journey from Mitzrayim through the wilderness until their entry into the Promised Land.

Why do we need to know all these names? Rashi answers by quoting the Midrash that says it is like a king whose son has taken ill. The king takes him on a long journey to reach a specialist doctor who has the cure. On the way back home, they follow the same route, staying in the same places, the King relating to the child: “This is where we slept, and this is where you had a fever, etc.”

The commentaries say that each place’s name was significant in describing what happened there.

The first time the root נסע/journey appears in the Torah is in Parshas Noach in connection with the דוֹר הַפְלָגָה/the generation that was dispersed, where it says that they journeyed to the valley of Shinar. The next time it appears is in Parshas Lech Lecha in connection to Avraham and his journey from Charan to Eretz Yisrael. There, Rashi says that each of Avraham’s journeys brought him in the direction of the south, toward Har HaMoriah, the center of the world.

These two journeys were very different in their essences. The journey to the valley of Shinar was a descent, not only physically but spiritually, because they were rebelling against Hashem. Avraham’s journey was an ascent to the highest point of the world, with each step of the way a spiritual elevation to find the Makom, to find Hashem.

So too the journeys of the Bnei Yisrael were a series of ups and downs. They began in Egypt, the lowest spiritual place in the world, and ascended forty-nine levels to Har Sinai, and then continued on to Eretz Yisrael, the highest point in the world both physically and spiritually. However, they fell many times along the way. The Gemara in Sanhedrin says that a tzaddik falls seven times and gets up. The lesson we learn from all this is that we should expect to fall — life is not meant to be plain sailing. However, when we fall, we need to get up and continue onward and upward.

Life is a journey with many stops on the way, where there are snakes and ladders going down or up. Hopefully, when we look back on all the stopping points of our lives, overall we will be looking down and not up.

Living in the land of Eretz Yisrael demands from us a high standard of living.

To truly inherit the land and be a נַחַלַת ה’, we are compelled to play the part of being בָּנִים אַתֶּם לַה’/children of Hashem. If not, the land, instead of being וְהִתְנַחַלְתֶּם, will becomeוְהוֹרַשְׁתֶּם , where the land will divorce us. B’ezras Hashem we will have the continued zechus to live in the land and effect the נַחַלֵי מַיִם/the flowing streams with the waters of our Torah learning, to achieve their purpose of moistening the land into a well-watered garden, where we behave like נְּחִילֵי דְבָרִים/Hashem’s bees, making Him King and placing Him at the center of our lives and giving praise to the one who conducts the נְּחִילוֹת.

1 Bamidbar 33:54.

2 Devarim 8:7.

3 Tehillim 127:3.

4 Rosh Hashanah 16a.

5 See Shoftim 5:5; Bamidbar Rabbah 19:26; Abarbanel to Shemos 17:1.

6 Pirkei D’Rebbe Eliezer 40.

7 Ibn Ezra on Shemos 3:2, quoting Devarim 33:16, ורצון שוכני סנה שמים.

8 Tehillim 5:1.

9 Radak on Tehillim ibid.

10 Koheles 1:7.

11 See Rashi to Bamidbar 35:52.


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